11/17/12 5:17pm
11/17/2012 5:17 PM

GARRET MEADE PHOTO | Bishop McGann-Mercy’s Reggie Archer, right, runs into Babylon’s Andrew Watson.


When it comes to Suffolk County Division IV football, Babylon is the benchmark. With some exceptions mixed in here and there, it has been that way for a long time.

The record speaks for itself. Over the course of its proud history, Babylon has won four Long Island championships and eight county crowns. The Panthers have played in 18 county finals in 20 years. Appearances in county finals this time of the year have become the norm for Babylon.

“We want to do it for the people who wore the jersey before us,” Babylon quarterback Nick Santorelli said. “Every year in, year out, we hold ourselves to that high standard. There’s no other Babylon. We’re Babylon. That’s who we are.”

Undefeated Babylon was a winner once again on Saturday, this time at the expense of Bishop McGann-Mercy. Santorelli threw for two touchdowns and ran for another two as top-seeded Babylon rolled to a 49-12 win in a Division IV semifinal on its home field. The Panthers (10-0) will play No. 2 Mount Sinai (9-1) in the county final next weekend at Stony Brook University.

The defeat brought an end to McGann-Mercy’s most successful season in decades. No. 5 McGann-Mercy (7-3), which was seeded 12th in a preseason coaches poll, was coming off a thrilling first-round upset of Hampton Bays. McGann-Mercy’s first playoff win since 1991 gave the Monarchs seven wins on the season, their highest total since 1978.

“We’re excited about what we did this year,” said Jeff Doroski, who is in his second year as McGann-Mercy’s head coach. “I’m going to tell these guys and continue to tell them they’ve done great things for Mercy football. They put us back on the map. They generated a buzz and excitement among our school community. … I really couldn’t be more proud of this group.”

Bishop McGann-Mercy wideout Christian Reyes said: “This season’s been great. It’s a total turnaround from the last couple of years. This is, I think, our best season ever.”

As one might have expected, heavily favored Babylon took a lot of the suspense out of the game early, surging to a 22-0 lead in the opening 7 minutes 24 seconds and holding a commanding 42-6 advantage by halftime.

“We came out pumped up, and we just beat them right from the start,” said Babylon running back/linebacker Eric Schweitzer.

The game’s first play from scrimmage resulted in a Babylon touchdown. Santorelli lofted a pass down the left side that Schweitzer collected for a 65-yard connection 17 seconds into the game.

GARRET MEADE PHOTO | Pat Marelli of Bishop McGann-Mercy stops Babylon ball carrier Ryan McSweeney. Marelli made seven solo tackles and assisted on two others.

Santorelli completed all three of his passes, two for touchdowns. The other touchdown pass was a 31-yarder to Jake Carlock.

Luke Zappia ran for another two Babylon touchdowns, and Schweitzer produced one himself. Schweitzer had 112 yards from 12 carries.

Babylon’s defense was dominant, holding McGann-Mercy to only one first down and 91 yards of offense. The Monarchs went 0 for 8 on third-down conversion attempts and 0 for 3 on fourth downs.

The first McGann-Mercy touchdown, with 4:19 left in the first quarter, came on a strange play. Tom Kent of McGann-Mercy received Alex Malhas’ kickoff and carried the ball forward before fumbling. Reyes collected the bouncing ball around the McGann-Mercy 40-yard line and ran it in for a touchdown.

McGann-Mercy’s second touchdown came with 6:58 left in the third quarter. Reggie Archer broke through the middle and tore 66 yards for the score.

The McGann-Mercy defense was led by Jack Strnad (seven solo tackles, three assisted) and Pat Marelli (seven solo tackles, two assisted).

McGann-Mercy might be the surprise team of Division IV this year, but Babylon wasn’t about to overlook the Monarchs.

“We don’t really care about their name, who they are or where they’re from,” Santorelli said. “We just play like it’s any other game. We play like it’s Sinai, like it’s Glenn. We just went out there and gave it everything we got. We didn’t take them lightly at all.”

Babylon overcame a 13-0 halftime deficit to defeat Mount Sinai, 22-16, during the regular season. The Panthers are two wins away from becoming the first Babylon team to go undefeated in a season since the 2002 team went 11-0.

“I told these kids they could be immortal,” said Rick Punzone, whose 10-year record as Babylon’s coach is 85-19 (.817). “You know, you’re 12 and 0, who knows? You could go down as one of the best teams in Babylon history.”

What was the best thing to come out of this season for the Monarchs?

Doroski answered, “The best thing is the memories that these guys will have for the rest of their life.”


11/10/12 10:28pm
11/10/2012 10:28 PM


McGann-Mercy head coach Jeff Doroski is no stranger to Long Island football. He’s coached with the big dogs like Longwood and Riverhead. He’s coached in a Long Island championship.

Still, few games in his career could match what unfolded Saturday afternoon against Hampton Bays in the first round of the Division IV playoffs.

“This is one of the best football games I’ve ever been a part of,” Doroski said.

The underdog Monarchs, a team no one gave any thought to at the beginning of the season, pulled of a stunning 22-21 Division IV victory, the first playoff win for the program since 1991. It was the seventh win of the season for the fifth-seeded Monarchs, a total they haven’t matched since 1978.

And they did it with one final defensive play to seal the win.

In a back-and-forth game where the offenses came to life in the fourth quarter, the Baymen scored on a 30-yard pass play with 1:30 left in the fourth quarter. It cut the Monarchs’ lead to one at 22-21. The Baymen, who converted an extra point kick and a two-point conversion in the game, only needed to kick the point after to be likely headed to overtime.

Instead, they went for the win.

Quarterback Justin Carbone doubles as the Baymen’s kicker. He lined up as if they Baymen would kick, but instead they snapped the ball directly to Carbone.

It was the same play the Baymen had successfully used after their previous touchdown.

Only this time, the Monarchs were ready.

Carbone rolled out looking to pass. But the Monarchs stayed disciplined on defense and didn’t allow any receivers to spring free. Carbone had to try to run it in but couldn’t reach the end zone before getting tackled by the Mercy defense, effectively sealing the victory for the Monarchs.

“We were a little bit surprised that they didn’t kick to tie it to go into overtime,” Doroski said. “But we were prepared for the two-point conversion. We’ve watched them on film and they’ve run a couple two-point conversions from that spot.”

The win sends the Monarchs into the semifinals next weekend against No. 1 Babylon, one of only two undefeated teams left in Suffolk County along with Sayville in Division III.

The Monarchs admittedly felt like the underdogs going into Saturday’s game. Hampton Bays (6-3) was coming off a hard-fought game against Mount Sinai (the No. 2 seed in the division) while the Monarchs got beaten up by East Hampton (the No. 8 seed).

“Some people looked at us and said it’s nice, those guys had a good season, but they’re going to be one and done in the playoffs,” Doroski said.

The Monarchs took a different approach.

“We thought we could play with anybody,” Doroski said. “We went into today and said, “Why not us?’ ”

The Monarchs got huge performances on the ground from halfback Tom Kent and quarterback Asaiah Wilson. Kent rushed for 131 yards and the deciding touchdown. He scored on an eight-yard run with 3:10 left in the fourth quarter to make it a 20-15 game. The Monarchs went for two to try to extend the lead to seven and Wilson ran the ball into the end zone.

Halfback Reggie Archer, who got most of the carries this season, missed the team’s final game of the regular season with an injury. While he was back Saturday, the Monarchs had him focus more on defense and left the running game to Kent and Wilson. Archer had eight carries for only 11 yards.

“Kent played out of his mind,” Doroski said. “He ran the ball really well.”

Wilson had a season-high 16 carries and rushed for 79 yards. He scored the Monarchs’ first two touchdowns on one-yard runs.

“His development over the course of the year has been fantastic,” Doroski said. “This game really was his best game we’ve seen him play. He ran the ball very hard today, he made big plays when we needed him to.”

All season Doroski was waiting and hoping to see his team put together a complete effort from start to finish.

It took until Nov. 10, but it couldn’t have come at a better time.

Now the Monarchs will still be playing football the weekend before Thanksgiving, which normally is the date for the county finals.

“It’s kind of a dream season,” Doroski said. “You can’t script it. We have exceeded our expectations.”


10/15/12 4:00pm
10/15/2012 4:00 PM

BOB LIEPA FILE PHOTO | Mercy football coach Jeff Doroski was selected by the New York Jets for a Coach of the Week Award.

McGann-Mercy football coach Jeff Doroski was selected for the New York Jets High School Coach of the Week Award, the team announced Friday.

Doroski will receive $1,000 to benefit the football program as well as a certificate from the Jets.

In his second season as the head coach of Mercy, Doroski has guided the Monarchs to a 5-1 start. Mercy was 5-0 for the first time since 1976 before falling to Shoreham-Wading River Friday night.

The Monarchs, a preseason No. 12 seed, are currently in sixth place in the Division IV power rankings. Four other teams have identical 5-1 records. One of those teams, The Stony Brook School, will host the Monarchs this Friday in a pivotal D-IV game. The Monarchs will need a win to have a shot at snagging one of the top four seeds in the playoffs to earn a home game.

Click here to read the official announcement on Doroski’s Coach of the Week Award.

10/06/12 7:10pm
10/06/2012 7:10 PM

ROBERT O’ROURK PHOTO | Paul Annunziata makes an interception late in the game Saturday for Mercy to help clinch the victory against Port Jefferson.


Early in the second quarter Saturday afternoon at Port Jefferson, the McGann-Mercy Monarchs found themselves in an unusual position: trailing by a touchdown.

Through the first half of the Division IV schedule, the Monarchs only trailed once, by one point in the second half against Greenport last week. The Monarchs came back to win that game, 12-7.

“It didn’t affect our kids, it didn’t affect the game plan,” said Mercy coach Jeff Doroski. “We got right back after it.”

The Monarchs answered Port Jefferson’s first quarter touchdown with 21 straight points to win the game 21-7. Mercy, a preseason No. 12 seed, improved to 5-0 and all but guaranteed itself a spot in the postseason.

Sophomore Reggie Archer scored on a pair of long touchdown runs. He broke an 88-yard run on a stretch play to the right side behind the blocks of Paolo Foscolo and Bryan Murray for his first score that tied the game.

“He has deceiving speed I call it,” Doroski said. “He doesn’t look very fast, but nobody catches him. When you’re running for 88 and 66 yards and guys have a chance to track you down and they don’t, that says something about what he’s doing for us.”

Archer capped the scoring for Mercy with a 66-yard touchdown run in the third quarter and he finished the day with 178 yards on 18 carries.

“We put a lot on his plate as a sophomore and he’s only going to get better,” Doroski said.

The Royals (1-4) jumped ahead on Mercy with an 81-yard touchdown from Paul Cavanagh in the first quarter. Doroski took the blame, saying he had the defense in the wrong position.

“We buckled down after that,” he said. “Asides from giving up the big run, we really kind of contained them for the rest of the game.”

Mercy quarterback Asaiah Wilson scored on a two-yard run to give the Monarchs a 14-7 lead at halftime.

It wasn’t a perfect performance from the Monarchs. Doroski said they failed to convert inside the red zone four times.

“At some point we got to put a full game together,” he said. “We were pretty mistake free today, we didn’t have too many penalties, but we just didn’t execute in the red zone when we needed to.”

The Monarchs will have their hands full next week when they return home to face 4-1 Shoreham-Wading River. The only loss for the Wildcats this season came against Mount Sinai, one of the top teams in the division.


ROBERT O’ROURK PHOTO | Mercy sophomore Reggie Archer broke off two long touchdown runs Saturday against Port Jefferson.

09/29/12 6:22pm
09/29/2012 6:22 PM

GARRET MEADE PHOTO | Bishop McGann-Mercy quarterback Asaiah Wilson gave the Monarchs a 12-0 lead by scoring on a 10-yard touchdown run.


These Monarchs have pride, and for good reason.

Bishop McGann-Mercy is off to one of the greatest starts in the football team’s history. Indeed, these are heady times for the Riverhead Catholic school. The Monarchs, who were seeded 12th in Suffolk County Division IV in a preseason coaches poll, brought their record to 4-0 on Saturday with a 12-7 homecoming win over Greenport/Southold/Mattituck/Shelter Island at Harold T. Murray Memorial Field.

“Mercy football, 4 and 0!” said Asaiah Wilson, who played quarterback and safety for McGann-Mercy. Wilson went so far as to proclaim this the “best team in Mercy history.”

McGann-Mercy coach Jeff Doroski said he did not know if the Monarchs had ever won their first four games in a season before. “We’re playing much more physical than we’ve ever played before,” he said. “We’re excited about what’s happening here.”

If the Monarchs were looking for an easy time against Greenport/Southold/Mattituck/Shelter Island (0-4), it wasn’t happening. For one thing, it’s a rivalry game, and the Porters played what was easily their best game of the season.

McGann-Mercy can credit its defense for holding on during crunch time. After forcing McGann-Mercy to punt — and benefitting from a couple of penalties in the process — the Porters took possession at the Monarchs’ 40-yard line with 3 minutes 11 seconds to go in the game and the score 12-7. They reached the 16 before being stopped on a fourth-down play in which Eugene Allen absorbed a powerful initial hit by Wilson before being brought down by Ray Ellis for no gain. By holding the Porters several inches short of a first down, McGann-Mercy was able to run off four plays and the remaining time in the game.

“We lost basically by four inches,” said Allen, a junior who made his first start at quarterback. “We gave it all we can, just four inches. It was our game if we just made that one play.”

GARRET MEADE PHOTO | Greenport/Southold/Mattituck/Shelter Island defensive back Jack Volinski breaking up a pass.

A controversial pass interference call against Greenport/Southold/Mattituck/Shelter Island also had a big impact. The call came in the third quarter, negating an interception by Jack Volinski and allowing McGann-Mercy to retain possession. Two plays later, Wilson took the ball 10 yards on a quarterback sneak for a touchdown that made the score 12-0 with 1:39 left in the third quarter.

“That might have been the game,” Greenport/Southold/Mattituck/Shelter Island coach Jack Martilotta said. “I talked to the official about it. I have no clue why he called that.”

Wilson (7 of 16, 139 yards), a junior transfer from Longwood, was also involved in McGann-Mercy’s first touchdown. He flipped a screen pass to Reggie Archer for a 37-yard touchdown completion in the second quarter.

Archer had a productive running game as well. Traversing a muddy, slick field that made it hard to get traction, the sophomore accumulated 122 yards from 29 carries.

A promising 11-play, 65-yard drive by McGann-Mercy reached the Porters’ 7-yard line. But the Monarchs came away empty-handed on the final play of the first half when Ed Kneski’s 35-yard field-goal attempt was blocked by Timmy Stevens.

Greenport/Southold/Mattituck/Shelter Island got on the scoreboard with 7:42 remaining in the fourth quarter. The Porters capped a 16-play drive with a three-yard touchdown run by Allen, making it a one-score game.

Allen is a playmaker, and that was the Porters’ thinking in going with him at quarterback instead of Matt Drinkwater, who had started the first three games at that position.

“We’re trying to get the ball in his hands as much as we can,” Martilotta said. “Drinkwater was doing well, but we feel [Allen] gives us a better chance to win. He’s quite an athlete. He made a couple of things happen today.”

Allen completed his last eight passes, going 10 of 11 for 104 yards. He said he took his first snaps as a quarterback since he was a freshman, and had not worked on his passing since mini camp over the summer. But he said he was confident. “I think if I had to, I can play any position on the field,” he said.

Allen took his share of hits from a McGann-Mercy defense that was a tough nut to crack. Pat Marelli made a game-high eight tackles, including one of the Monarchs’ six sacks.

Instead of their first win, the Porters dropped their ninth straight loss dating back to last year.

“It hurts,” Martilotta said. He added, “If we got that first down right there [near the end of the game], we’d be having a different interview right now.”

Meanwhile, these are happy times at McGann-Mercy, where the school is abuzz about what its football team has been doing. The Monarchs started the day in third place. Who knows where they will end up by the time the regular season ends? At this point, it looks like a safe bet that the Monarchs will be making their first playoff appearance since 2007. Their remaining games are against Port Jefferson, Shoreham-Wading River, The Stony Brook School and East Hampton/Bridgehampton/Pierson.

“I didn’t know what to expect, but something like this, I’m just shocked,” Wilson said. “I’m overwhelmed.”


09/09/11 10:59pm
09/09/2011 10:59 PM

JOHN NEELY PHOTO | Wayne Harris of Center Moriches found the end zone on a six-yard run for the game's first score despite the efforts of Bishop McGann-Mercy's Pat Stepnoski.

What happens when friends coach against each other?

What else? A fight breaks out.

They had been in the same huddle before as teammates and on the same football sideline before as coaches, but Friday night marked a first for both Jeff Doroski and Steve Failla. For the first time, they faced each other on opposing sidelines as head coaches, Doroski of the Bishop McGann-Mercy Monarchs and Failla of the Center Moriches Red Devils.

The game must have prompted mixed emotions for coaches on both staffs. Failla was the best man at Doroski’s wedding and is the godfather to Doroski’s son. Not only that, but they were both teammates at Mercy, as was one of the Center Moriches assistant coaches, Craig Rupprecht. All three are Mercy Class of 1992 graduates. On top of all of that, Failla and Rupprecht are both former Monarchs coaches themselves.

And, as if that story line isn’t tangled enough, a McGann-Mercy assistant coach, Phil Lombardi, is a another former Mercy player who had served as a Center Moriches assistant coach for five years before coming to the Monarchs this year.

Finally, to add even more spice to the season-opening Suffolk County Division IV game at Center Moriches High School, it just happened to be Doroski’s debut as a varsity head coach.

“Me, Steve and Craig, we go back a long ways,” Doroski said. “Yeah, we’re close. We go to barbecues at each other’s house, and they’ll be at my daughter’s baptism in two weeks and stuff like that.”

No doubt, there will be some talk during that occasion about what happened on Friday night. Myles Bell ran for touchdowns on his first two carries as Center Moriches rolled, 32-14, spoiling Doroski’s debut. The game was interrupted for about 20 minutes when a fight broke out 4:22 into the third quarter. Coaches rushed on to the field to separate players. A game official took a fall during the flurry and was quickly helped to his feet by McGann-Mercy’s Pat Stepnoski. After order was restored, Jack Strnad of McGann-Mercy and Wayne Harris of Center Moriches were ejected. The ejections carry automatic one-game suspensions.

JOHN NEELY PHOTO | Bishop McGann-Mercy's Rudfil Paul Jr. swatted away a pass intended for Center Moriches' Mario Mayen in the end zone.

Stepnoski said he wasn’t sure what prompted the fists to fly.

“I just turned around, and there was a big group of everybody fighting,” he said. “It kept going and going and going. I didn’t know what was happening.”

Failla said: “I couldn’t tell you who hit who and how it started, but everyone’s got to walk away, and our guy certainly didn’t walk away. They got learn, it’s a selfish act in an unselfish game that’s very unforgiving.”

Similarly, Doroski voiced his disapproval of the fisticuffs.

“It’s just frustrations got out of hand,” he said. “You never want to see anything like that. We just reacted to something that we don’t need to react to. We’re better than that. We represent something else out here, and that’s not what we represent.”

Both teams will feel the absence of those players. Strnad is a starting guard and defensive end. Harris plays running back and linebacker.

In addition to Bell’s two touchdown runs, Harris and Patrick Teich both ran for Center Moriches touchdowns as well. Another Red Devils score came through the air, an 18-yard connection from Jeff Foster to Nuquan Mathis.

Bell wove and sped his way to 111 yards on 10 carries, including runs of five and 28 yards that brought him into the end zone.

“I try my hardest every game, and whatever God gives me, it is what it is,” he said.

A four-year varsity starter, Bell is an undoubted talent.

“Myles is a special athlete,” Failla said. “He can accelerate on a dime, and he’s got nice vision. It seems like he cuts so fluidly, his hips never move.”

McGann-Mercy has a back who can run well, too. Stepnoski scored both of McGann-Mercy’s touchdowns in addition to making a team-leading nine tackles and recovering a fumble.

The Monarchs fell behind by 19-0 in the opening 14:32, but didn’t quit. On the final play of the first half, Keith Schroeher (8 of 18, 120 yards) lofted a pass down the right sideline that Stepnoski ran under, collected and kept running until he reached the end zone, 78 yards away.

Stepnoski also brought the Monarchs their second touchdown in the third quarter when he burst through for a 32-yard scoring run on a fourth-and-three play. Drew Rajotte’s extra point cut Center Moriches’ lead to 26-14.

The bulk of McGann-Mercy’s offense came from Stepnoski’s three receptions, 98 of the team’s 159 yards of total offense. The Monarchs had difficulty moving the ball, generating only two first downs, 39 rushing yards and converting two of 11 third-down plays.

But the Monarchs showed fight (in more ways than one).

“We don’t give up,” Stepnoski said. “We fought all the way until the end, even though it was not the closest score in the world. We didn’t give up, and that was heartening to see.”

Failla said: “They were outgunned, and they kept fighting. Nobody told them that they were outgunned.”

For three hours, Doroski and Failla had to put their friendship aside and focus on the task at hand.

“You’re trying to win a football game, you know,” Doroski said. “We work with these kids all year long. You want what’s best for them, obviously. He’s doing what’s best for his kids, I’m trying to do what’s best for my kids, and we go from there.”

Now that this game is out of the way, Failla said, Doroski and him can “go back to being friends.”


09/06/11 10:04pm
09/06/2011 10:04 PM

GARRET MEADE FILE PHOTO | Charles Bartlett was Riverhead's leading rusher last season, picking up 773 yards and four touchdowns from 138 carries.

Who said you can’t go home again? The Riverhead Blue Waves are going to try their darnedest to do just that.

And home, in this case, would mean the playoffs. In recent years, the playoffs have become an expectation more than anything else for the Blue Waves. They had reached the postseason four years in a row before missing out on the party last year.

Hence, the team’s theme for the new season: “On Our Way Back Home.”

It certainly looks as if the Blue Waves have the tools to do it. They may be eager to leave their 2010 season — and the 2-6 record that came with it — in the past. Sure, they were 2-6, but the record is a little misleading. Four of Riverhead’s losses came by a total of 14 points. They ended up in 10th place in Suffolk County Division II despite outscoring opponents by 163-144.

“We couldn’t make that critical play when we had to,” said Leif Shay, who takes a 70-43 (.619) career record into his 14th season as the team’s coach. “It was frustrating. It was something that we’re not used to. It leaves a little bit of a bitter taste.”

Fortunately for the sixth-seeded Blue Waves, they have players like Charles Bartlett, Ryan Bitzer and Reggie Moore to help sweeten things in 2011.

Moore, a senior H-back and linebacker, was an all-league player last season. He led the team in tackles (73) and sacks (5 1/2).

Bartlett, a senior running back/linebacker, was the team’s rushing leader, gobbling up 773 yards from 138 runs (5.6 yards per carry) and bolting for four touchdowns.

“I was trying to get to a thousand [rushing yards], but this year I’m hoping to have a lot more,” Bartlett said. “It’s definitely going to be difficult for a defense to stop us with our running game.”

Bitzer got valuable experience starting at quarterback as a sophomore last year. He completed 64 of 138 passes for 974 yards and nine touchdowns against six interceptions.

Four of Bitzer’s touchdown passes went to Mike Hinchy (10 receptions, 133 yards), who enters his senior season.

Riverhead has two other senior starters back in wide receiver/free safety Kurt Carter and lineman Shawn Yarborough. Meanwhile, senior left tackle Anthony Stimpfel is expected to play a big role on the offensive line.

The defensive unit will have all new starters.

Good things are expected from Jeremiah Cheatom, a sophomore running back/outside linebacker who ran for 22 touchdowns for the junior varsity team last year and then scored two more in his varsity debut on the final day of the regular season.

Among the bunch of newcomers who could find themselves on the field are center Stephen Powers, right tackle Kyle Harris, right guard Kyle McCabe, left guard Nick Ross, tight end Vinny Brodeur, cornerback Jeff Pittman, cornerback Quinn Funn, outside linebacker Eric Gevinski, outside linebacker Jaron Greenidge, defensive end David Napoli and defensive end Josh Blom.

“We have a lot of young guys who are hungry,” Shay said. “I like their intensity.”

Sure, the Blue Waves have a lot of youth, but they also have good speed at the skill positions.

“Very good talent,” Moore said. “We have a lot of speed on this team, and we’re going to see what we can do with it this year.”

Moore sounded anxious for his third varsity season to kick off.

“Very exciting,” he said. “I’ve been waiting for this. This is my last year. This is my sport. This is my time to shine.”

GARRET MEADE FILE PHOTO | Bishop McGann-Mercy quarterback Keith Schroeher was named to the all-division second team in 2010.

Tackling woes continually haunted the Bishop McGann-Mercy Monarchs (2-6) last season, and they were reflected in the statistics. Damning statistics.

The Monarchs gave up more than 51 points in a game on three occasions and 46 or more points five times. Their opponents rang up an average of 38.9 points per game against the Monarchs. Tightening up that defense is one of the top priorities for the team’s new head coach, Jeff Doroski.

“Our biggest problem is the physical nature of this game and what it means to be a physical football team,” said Doroski, who took over from Joe Read, who resigned in January after four years in which the Monarchs went 10-23 and reached the playoffs in 2008 for the first time in 16 years.

Talking about the tackling issue, Doroski said: “It’s tough and it’s not a fixable thing overnight. We hope it’s sooner than later. It’s a process. I think it will get better. It can’t get worse.”

As Doroski, a former player and assistant coach for the Monarchs, tackles his new job, he has brought changes with him. The Monarchs have adopted a new zonal blocking scheme and can be expected to play more of a field-position game than they did under Read.

“We want to try to control the tempo of our game with our game,” said Doroski, whose team is seeded 12th among Division IV’s 14 teams.

With the start of the new Doroski era, comes excitement.

“Everyone’s been working in the off-season, which hasn’t always been the case in years past,” said Pat Stepnoski, a senior running back and outside linebacker who has never been to the football playoffs and wants to change that. “Everyone’s excited, ready to go. Everyone wants to do well this year.”

Stepnoski, who was an all-county selection last year, is a big part of the team’s plans along with Keith Schroeher, a senior quarterback and outside linebacker who was named to the all-division second team.

The Monarchs will rely on their other returning starters as well: offensive tackle/defensive end Anthony Heppner, offensive tackle/defensive tackle Ray Ellis, wide receiver/defensive back Junior Paul, defensive end/H-back Bernie Schrage and guard/middle linebacker Jack Strnad. Also returning to the team are linemen James Edmonds and Mike Donnell. Among the new additions are center/defensive tackle Chris Butler, wide receiver/defensive back Mario Burriesci and guard/middle linebacker Pat Morelli.

“They come to work,” Doroski said. “We don’t have a lot of rah-rah guys who are jumping up and down and yelling and screaming. We have a lot of guys who come out every day and do their job.”

With nine two-way starters, depth and injuries are an issue to be concerned about.

Game 1 on Friday night at Center Moriches High School will carry special significance for Doroski in a number of ways. Not only will he be making his debut as a varsity head football coach, but he will be facing two familiar faces across the field from him. The Red Devils’ coach, Steve Failla, is the godfather of Doroski’s son, Christian, and was the best man at Doroski’s wedding. And that isn’t the only connection. Failla and one of his assistant coaches, Craig Rupprecht, are both former McGann-Mercy coaches themselves who were teammates of Doroski’s when they all played for the Monarchs.

“We want to obviously improve on a 2 and 6 record,” Doroski said. “I think the way our schedule sets up, we’re capable of doing that. We also want to be able to come week in and week out and compete. We have the talent and the physical makeup to come out and be a competitive team. We have to decide to do that.”

The biggest news coming out of Shoreham-Wading River’s first scrimmage, a multi-team exhibition at Smithtown West last Thursday, was every player walked away from it healthy.

For a team as banged up as the Wildcats were last season, they know there’s little wiggle room for any starters to go down. Under their second-year coach, Matt Millheiser, the Wildcats are anxious to move on from an 0-8 season last year and in their first taste of live competition, the players came out hitting.

“It was the scrimmage we went to last year and last year we took it on the chin a little bit,” Millheiser said. “This year the kids were ready to go. We fared well. At times Smithtown West had a little size on us and they pushed us around a little bit, but I think our kids responded to that. They scored on us and our kids responded and we were able to march the ball downfield and score on them.”

Points were hard to come by for the Wildcats last season. They were shut out four times and scored a total of 30 points on the season, punching the ball in the end zone four times. In contrast, every team they played scored at least 32 points against the Wildcats.

The Wildcats will rely on their running attack to try to move the chains this season. Senior Dylan Bates, a tight end last year, will get the majority of handoffs in a new role this season at halfback. One of the most versatile athletes on the team, a player who can line up in multiple spots, Bates proved early in training camp that he could be the team’s top runner.

“We had him back there a couple times just running the ball and realized he was our best runner, our hardest runner,” Millheiser said. “He was going at game speed and he gave us the best opportunity to run the ball well.”

Senior Joe Longo returns at fullback. He also plays defensive end. And the Wildcats have another young runner who could see some action running the ball in Tyler Anderson, a sophomore who saw time on varsity last year.

The Wildcats feature two players still vying for playing time at quarterback. Junior Kevin Kelley saw some time at quarterback last year behind Brandon Warner, who graduated. He’s fighting for time along with another junior, Sean Logan.

Millheiser said both players have played well at times, but haven’t had the consistency to win the starting job outright.

“If we have to go with two of them in the season and go with the hot hand so to speak, we’ll do that,” Millheiser said. “And if somebody decides to take control and win the job outright I have no problem putting him in for all the snaps.”

When the Wildcats look to pass, they’ll have a big target in Chris Mahoney, a 6-foot-3 receiver. He caught a fade for a touchdown against Babylon in the Wildcats’ scrimmage.

“Having a kid like that out there is going to force teams to keep that safety out of the box and let us run the ball more effectively,” Millheiser said. “When they want to bring [the safety] up we’re going to have to put it up there and let Chris go make some plays.”

The Wildcats return some experience on the line with center Jason Ambrosini, a junior, and seniors Mike Savino and Dylan Gorman, who both play guard on the offensive line. Savino and Gorman also lead the defense at linebacker.

“Offensively we’re going to pull our guards, get them moving and we’re going to run behind them,” Millheiser said. “So those two guys are important on offense.”

Logan (free safety) and Mahoney (strong safety) will both anchor the secondary on defense. Millheiser said there are a few players battling for the cornerback spots.

On special teams, Zach MacAuley, a sophomore soccer player, returns to do the kicking duties.

“He’s grown a lot since last year,” Millheiser said. “He’s bigger, stronger and kicking the ball farther.”

The 10th seed in Division IV, after playing in Division III last year, the Wildcats will open the season against Southampton.

Joe Werkmeister contributed to this article.


08/29/11 1:44pm
08/29/2011 1:44 PM

BOB LIEPA PHOTO | Bishop McGann-Mercy has adopted a new zonal blocking scheme.

The Bishop McGann-Mercy Monarchs are in the zone.

Zonal blocking, a scheme that is becoming more common in high school football, has come to Bishop McGann-Mercy Diocesan High School. McGann-Mercy’s new head coach, Jeff Doroski, has introduced the blocking system to his offensive line, which he considers one of the team’s strengths. In zonal blocking, offensive linemen are responsible for a space, not a man. “Whoever’s there you hit,” said Ray Ellis, a junior left tackle.

Described as a simpler blocking style than that which the Monarchs had previously employed, quickness, timing and footwork are essential. The Riverhead Blue Waves have used zonal blocking for years and have enjoyed great success with it.

“The zone scheme allows us to open some holes and to allow our athlete, which is [running back] Pat Stepnoski, to read the defense a little bit and pick some spots,” Doroski said. “We can get guys up to the second level to get some hits on some linebackers and create some spaces to run.”

Teamwork by this team within a team is important. “Everyone has to think alike,” Ellis said. “Everyone has to have the same idea in their head and be going a hundred percent.”

BOB LIEPA PHOTO | Pat Stepnoski ran into Bishop McGann-Mercy's running backs coach, Phil Lombardi, during a drill.

Three returning starters from last year’s offensive line — Ellis (6 feet, 250 pounds), senior Anthony Heppner (6-3, 260) and junior Jack Strnad (6-1, 200) — are back. Pat Marelli (5-11, 205), who played for Riverhead’s junior varsity team last year, joins the line along with junior Chris Motlenski (5-10, 240), who was promoted from McGann-Mercy’s JV squad.

The projected starting lineup has Motlenski at center, Strnad at left guard, Marelli at right guard, Ellis at left tackle and Heppner at right tackle. James Edmonds (5-10, 230), a senior guard, is fighting for a starting position.

“We all know a football team isn’t going to go very far unless it has a good line, on both sides of the ball,” Doroski said. “We’re going to be as good as they are this year. As they get better, we’re going to get better as a team. I think physically, we’re not as tough as we need to be up front yet, but we’re getting better and tougher.”

Big and strong would be the words to describe the group. Marelli can bench 255 pounds and squat 420. Motlenski can dead lift 495 and power clean 195.

“I’d say all of them, for their individual sizes, they’re very strong,” Doroski said. “All of them did very well in the weight room. … All of the linemen did more than we’ve ever seen in the past here as far as our strength goes, so that’s encouraging.”

For big, strong linemen, though, they have good footwork, too, said Doroski. “The biggest thing is the footwork,” he said. “That’s the challenge that these guys are having right now. But as they begin to rep that more and they trust their footwork to get them to where they want to be, the better they’re going to become, and we’ve already seen in the past week and a half the improvements.”

The other big change on the line is the move of Motlenski to center, a position he had never played before. With the graduation of Ryan Heimroth in June, the Monarchs were looking for a new center. Doroski asked Motlenski if he could snap the ball, and he said he would give it a try.

BOB LIEPA PHOTO | Agility training was part of Bishop McGann-Mercy's practice on Friday morning.

So, how is life as a center going?

“They say I’m doing good, so I guess I’m doing pretty good,” Motlenski said. “I guess once we start having scrimmages and stuff like that I’ll see more of how it is because I’ve never played it before in a game, so I don’t know what it’s like.”

Motlenski played guard and tackle for the JV team last year. A learning curve is involved with his new position, which is a complex one. But Motlenski knows what the most important part of his new job is.

“Make sure the snap’s good,” he said. “It doesn’t happen a lot, but I’ve had a few bad snaps, and it ruins the entire play. Obviously, you got to worry about getting the snap up and then going to make your block.”

Doroski said Motlenski has done a lot of work in the offseason and fits the mold well as the team’s new center.

“It’s a hard position to learn, and once he gets more game time, more game experience there, the better he’s going to get,” the coach said. “… He’s a smart kid. He’s able to make the calls that we need him to make up front, so we’re looking forward to watching him get better as the year goes on.”

Progress is being made with the zonal blocking, Monarchs say. That is a comfort to the McGann-Mercy coaching staff, Stepnoski and Keith Schroeher, the quarterback.

“We don’t get credit,” Ellis said. “All the running backs, they get the credit, but it starts with us. If we don’t do our job, they can’t do their job.”